Cutting Edge Knowledge Centre

Following our story in the previous issue on a new state-of-the-art greenhouse research and training facility at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), in this issue we profile Wageningen UR University in The Netherlands, where much of the UWS design inspiration will come.

Wageningen UR is universally recognised as the centre for cutting edge greenhouse technology  research and education. Together with growers and high-tech companies, Wageningen UR has developed new cultivation systems, climate control systems, revolutionary greenhouse covering materials, and many other innovations. The use of these new technologies has made The Netherlands a world leader in greenhouse horticulture. Indeed, Wageningen Campus itself is one of the greenest and most sustainable knowledge centres in the world.

The aim of the co-operative partnership for the Australian project, is to deliver a comparable facility at Hawkesbury Campus to conduct cutting edge research and training under Australian climatic conditions. The new facility is expected to benefit commercial growers and enhance research and educational opportunities in the region.

With rising energy costs, one aspect that must be considered for any greenhouse facility is energy conservation, an area in which Wageninen UR has a depth of knowledge and experience. By 2020, the Dutch greenhouse horticulture industry hopes to be energy sustainable without the need for fossil fuels, as well as supply excess ‘green’ energy to nearby residential communities. While this is achievable in a country like The Netherlands, where greenhouses are built alongside residential communities, the challenges are greater in Australia with its widespread population centres. Nonetheless, the global greenhouse horticulture industry, including Australia, will benefit from Wageningen UR research to make greenhouse operations fossil fuel free. It’s this type of research that we can also expect from the UWS facility once operational, among other research priorities.

Energy conservation is also the focus of our story on two Gippsland greenhouse tomato growers who made the decision to move away from fossil fuels and go green. They invested in a biomass heater plant that produces thermal energy from wood chip, bark and sawdust sourced from nearby sawmills and timber processing industries in Gippsland. The cost-saving to the growers is more than half that for coal briquettes, less than a third of the cost of using natural gas, and seven times cheaper than LPG heating. The new biomass system is able to handle high moisture content biomass, up to 60% without a loss of efficiency. The payback period is said to be under two years when compared to a baseline case of using a fossil fuel such as LPG. The best news is the fuel source is renewable, which is good for everyone, including the environment.

It’s been a long, wet winter along the East Coast of Australia. As we welcome the warmer spring weather, growers should be alert to rising insect pest populations. Our article on timing the release of beneficials for thrips is a reminder of the importance of scouting and a biological control program in the greenhouse. Ω

Steven Carruthers

PH&G September 2014 / Issue 147